The Italians always have us over or come over to our place to cook dinner, so I decided we should return the favor last night. I've been cooking on my own a lot here, and I've taught myself how to cook a lot of nice foods. With fresh produce being cheaper and higher in quality here than in the U.S., and so much good pasta and sauces to choose from, of COURSE I had to experiment! So we had about 15 people over last night, including our Italian friends and our American friends from Umbra. I heated up fresh bread to dip in oil/pesto, and tossed a salad with buffalo mozzerella. I even made my Italian grandmother's recipe for salad dressing - oil, vinegar, oregano, pepper, and I added my own ideas like parmesan cheese and pesto! I made pasta with ricotta/tomato sauce and sauteed vegetables. Of course there was wine pouring continuously! Although everyone got a plate, some people were still hungry, so I even cooked some spinach and ricotta tortellini with pesto and oil. Then we had Perugian chocolate for dessert. I was really happy, because the Italians thought my food was great and they only had to give me a couple little tips. I did it all myself, which is a big deal for me! Now all I need to do is learn how to make my family's sauce from scratch, because in America you can't get GOOD sauce in a jar like you can get here at the grocery stores.
After dinner, Valentino taught us an Italian drinking game, and we taught them an American drinking game (Kings, of course!) We had a lot of fun. Parties here are classy! Living in Italy is a party every day. Yes, you go to work, but in the evenings it's all about family, friends, food, and wine. They really know what's important! I love it so much that I'm thinking of possibilites on how I can come back soon. I would love to spend the whole summer here next year to see how I like it without being an Umbra student, completely on my own. I'll get a job this year to save money for the trip and take Italian classes, or work on Rosetta Stone all year to prepare. Then if I'm fluent enough it might be possible, and I could get a summer job here. Then maybe when I'm done with school I could move here permanently! Apparently the easiest way to become an Italian citizen, according to Professor Termini (I love her! She's Italian, and both a citizen of Italy and the U.S. since she also teaches in the U.S. and her husband is American), is to get certified to teach English. Even though I've always hated the idea of being a teacher, I don't think I would mind that as much because it's totally different than the type of teaching I considered before. This would be fun for me, because I would be working with Italians all the time, speaking their beautiful language, and trading knowledge about culture. I would be able to learn from them as I would teach them my language! Another thing I could try is to work with foreign students, like the Umbra Staff here does, because that would be a good use of my degree. Or maybe I could even be a counselor, which is the career I'm going for in America. I'm thinking of a lot of options, because the lifestyle in Italy is perfect for me and I feel right at home!
Today we visited the Perugina Chocolate Factory. It's now owned by Nestle, but it's chocolate is one-of-a-kind and originated in Perugia. We watched a movie on how the different types of chocolate are made, and took a tour of the museum to learn a little bit about the history of Perugian chocolate. It was very interesting, and I walked away with plenty of treats for my family and friends. Baci ("kisses", sort of like Hershey's kisses, only different and wayyyy better!), which you can find all over the world, are the most important candy produced by the factory. They are small chocolate moldings with hazelnut pieces, and then an entire hazelnut on top, all covered in a layer of 51% (I think) cacao chocolate. They are delicious and unlike anything else. The wrappers all have love notes on the inside, because Baci are supposed to be the chocolate of love. The packages are all a dark blue sky with stars, with a picture of Romeo and Juliet kissing. The Perugina Chocolate Factory is the only factory in the world where Baci are made, so they have to produce thousands and thousands per minute! They also make lots of other types of chocolate: Nero (black, or dark), Fondente (also dark), and Latte (milk), as well as chocolate with cherries, nuts, and different "fruit-laced" chocolate bars, as I like to call them. They also make cakes and cookies. It's my new favorite brand of sweets!
This afternoon after I do some schoolwork, I'm going to go with some friends to a special store where you can get the best olive oil in town. I want to take some home with me, because obviously it's almost impossible to find olive oil in the U.S. as perfect as they have here. Then, we'll go out for MORE gelato!
Isn't it funny how everything in Italy is about food?! It seems like it's all I can talk about! But really, it's much more than that. The whole experience is a culture shock, but in a good way! Everyone is so friendly, and life is happy, relaxed, and peaceful. Italy has it's problems like any other country, and of course there are always exceptions, so I'm not trying to generalize or stereotype. I love America, but it seems like we have different values. We are so hurried and career-focused, always trying to get ahead and make money to support ourselves or to find happiness as independent people. I'm not saying that no one in America has values like the ones I'm mentioning about Italy, but the general dynamic of the two countries and their societies is totally different. What I love about Italy's value system: people work hard and prioritize their careers and success, but only enough to support themselves so they are comfortable. Your career is not what defines you. The family is a large network where everyone supports each other in every way, including financially, so that there is very little debt and people are not completely on their own. Happiness is based on good food and wine, beauty (not only art, music, and nature, but also "bella figura" - hospitality, caring for one's appearance, orderliness, and generosity), and of course socializing and spending time with friends and family.
Cheers to that, or as we say here, "SALUTE!"